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In Belgorod, Russia, anti-Putin militia stage cross-border raid

KYIV, Ukraine – Russian officials said on Tuesday that a counterterrorism operation expelled saboteurs from the western region of Belgorod, which borders Ukraine, after militias made up of Russians fighting on Ukraine’s side during the war launched an attack on a border crossing and an office. of the Federal Security Service, or FSB.

Belgorod Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said on Tuesday that one person was killed and eight injured in the militia attack.

The Russian Defense Ministry said Tuesday afternoon that security forces had killed 70 fighters and destroyed four infantry vehicles and five pickup trucks. The ministry’s statement could not be independently verified.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday the cross-border attack was an attempt by Ukraine to distract from Russia’s capture of Bakhmut, the long-besieged eastern city. Ukraine which Russia claimed this week to have finally captured.

After previous incidents including drone strikes and an armed incursion into the Bryansk region, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered officials to step up security in Belgorod and other areas adjacent to Ukraine, but the new attack showed that Russia is still unable to protect the border area. Past security lapses have drawn heavy criticism from Russian diehards.

The militias, called the Russian Volunteer Corps and the Free Russian Legion, are made up of ethnic Russian fighters, including Russian citizens, who oppose Putin and say they are working to “liberate” their homeland. Some members of the groups are known to be Russian neo-Nazis or to hold other extremist views.

Russian Volunteer Corps leader Denis Kapustin, for example, is a former mixed martial arts fighter with ties to white nationalist groups across Europe.

Before and after images of the destroyed Ukrainian town of Bakhmut

The groups, which nominally operate under the wing of Ukrainian military intelligence, released dark, grainy videos allegedly filmed during the nighttime raid in the early hours of Monday, with fighters standing next to road signs in the Belgorod region. The Washington Post could not immediately verify the authenticity of the videos.

In one, a voice using the initials of the Russian Volunteer Corps is heard saying, “RDK fighters have crossed the border again. Russia will soon be free.

Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky, denied any direct Kyiv involvement and said the armed groups were acting on their own. Posting on Twitter, Podolyak said Ukraine was watching the events “with interest and studying the situation” – a common government response to attacks on Russian territory.

Videos posted on Russian social media purported to show explosions in the region on Monday, including the attack at a Russian border crossing. Overnight, more videos surfaced claiming to show the attack on FSB buildings. On Tuesday morning, groups of Russian saboteurs said they were still fighting in Belgorod.

The Washington Post has verified some of the footage from the attack in the Belgorod region, including three videos of what appears to be the group of saboteurs at the Russian border crossing of Kozinka.

One of the videos shows a soldier with yellow Ukrainian army tape marks standing next to a damaged building at the Kozinka checkpoint. Another features armored vehicles with Ukrainian military markings and a third, including aerial footage, captures plumes of smoke rising along the Kozinka highway.

Gladkov, the governor of Belgorod, said on Tuesday morning that Russian forces were “clearing” the border area of ​​pro-Ukrainian saboteurs. He asked residents evacuated from Grayvoron, a Russian settlement a few miles from the border with Ukraine, not to return home until it was safer.

“There are reports that there are two injured civilians in the settlements where the enemy has entered.” Gladkov wrote on the Telegram messaging platform, apparently confirming that pro-Ukrainian groups were still active in Belgorod. “So far the security forces have not been able to reach them.”

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Although Russian and Ukrainian officials confirmed that armed groups of Russian origin had crossed the border from Ukraine and carried out strikes, the full extent of the attacks and the details of the incidents were unclear.

The UK Ministry of Defense said it was “highly likely” the attacks took place, adding that Russia would use the incidents to support the Kremlin’s narrative that it is a casualty of war.

The US State Department reiterated that it had made it clear to Ukraine that US military assistance was not to be used in attacks outside Ukraine’s borders, but that it it was up to Ukraine to decide how to conduct military operations.

Andriy Yusov, a spokesman for Ukrainian military intelligence, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the incidents in Belgorod. On Monday, Yusov told Ukrainian public broadcaster Suspilne that Russian groups had carried out the attack to create a buffer zone to protect Ukrainian civilians from Russian attacks in the border region – a frequent occurrence in Ukrainian regions along the border. northeast of the country.

Peskov told reporters on Tuesday that the Belgorod incident was concerning, but he said Putin did not plan to hold a Security Council meeting about it. “The special military operation continues to prevent this from happening again in the future,” Peskov said, using Russia’s official euphemism for the war in Ukraine. He added that the Russian Investigative Committee, a federal law enforcement agency, has opened a criminal investigation into the Belgorod case.

Natalia Abbakumova and Mary Ilyushina in Riga, Latvia contributed to this report.

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